The movies have given us some of the most hateful, horrible paternal role models imaginable. Here are 10 films well worth watching—but not on Father’s Day.
The evil protagonist in a series of Sax Rohmer novels is perhaps fiction’s greatest bad dad that no one remembers. The East’s arch evildoer and his despicable daughter appeared in a number of film adaptations over the years. This 1931 film is easily one of the best, as the deadly pair races against British intelligence in the quest for the source of ultimate power: the mask and sword of Genghis Khan. Come on! What kind of respectable father teaches his daughter that conquering the world is cool? At the time, the film proved controversial. The Chinese government complained the film conveyed a hostile depiction of Asians. They had a point. During the film, Fu Manchu commands: “Kill the white man and take his women!”
Frankenstein, the 1931 blockbuster that introduced Boris Karloff as the pieced-together creation of a mad scientist dad, would have worked well for this list. But, as movie critic Roger Ebert so rightly observed, the 1935 sequel, The Bride of Frankenstein, is “the best of the Frankenstein movies–a sly, subversive work that smuggled shocking material past the censors by disguising it in the trappings of horror.” What’s more, we learn Victor Frankenstein is the father of two monsters: the original and, now, his bride. Herr Victor is a terrible father: He creates “life” and then spends the rest of the movie trying to kill it. The bride doesn’t actually show up till the end of the film. All the monster wants is a mate, but Frankenstein makes a mess of that too—and pretty much everybody dies, again.
This suspenseful 1960 British horror film was remade by an American director in 1995. Both movies are worth watching. An entire town passes out and then, just as mysteriously, awakes. It gets creepier. Two months later, every woman of child-bearing age in the town discovers she is pregnant. They all give birth on the same day to nearly identical children. But wait, it gets creepier. The children are connected by a telepathic bond and have strange powers. Then it gets really creepy. It turns out the same phenomenon has happened in other remote villages around the globe. To save the world, one dad has to stand up and stamp out the alien planned-parenthood invasion. Okay, Dad is a hero. But, he is also wiping out these cute little dimple-faced kids. Definitely not Father’s Day fare.
The 1968 grandfather of all modern-day zombie movies also features one of the worst cinematic dads of all time. After the dead overturn their car, Harry, Helen, and their little girl (Karen, who has been bitten the arm) hightail it to a Pennsylvania farm house, where they hide out in the basement. The hero, Ben, shows up and takes command of the situation, leading a small group of survivors in holding off the hungry hordes. Harry isn’t much help. He mostly whines about not being in charge, while his poor little girl goes all-zombie and then eats her mom. Harry gets his too. It is all just as well—he is a terrible role model for how a father ought to act in an “end of the world” crisis. Apparently, his father never taught him to “stay calm and carry on.”
In this 1974 award-winning classic, a hard-boiled private investigator doesn’t stop digging until he uncovers the dirtiest of all bad-dad secrets—a case of incest. Even giving away the big plot twist doesn’t diminish this engaging atmospheric film that received 11 Academy Award nominations.
Colonel Munro, what were you thinking? Bringing two beautiful, fragile young daughters into the wilds of the North American colonies during the height of the French and Indian War? Really? This 1992 film version of the classic James Fenimore Cooper novel may be one of the best history-epic action films ever made. Everything about the film is perfect, from the music to cinematography, to editing and acting—except for dad. He is a real disappointment. Father proves a letdown in so many way—lying, poor generalship, butchering natives. The “savage” Chingachgook turns out to be a much nobler father figure than the feckless defender of Fort William Henry.
#4: The Professional
This cool 1994 action film about the relationship between a mob hitman and Mathilda, a 12-year-old girl, is a not-to-be-missed movie. Mathilda’s father and the rest of the family get slaughtered in the opening minutes of the film. It seems dad tried to double-cross a gang of ruthless, blood-crazed rogue DEA agents. Smart. Seriously, what kind of father puts his family at risk like that? Dad’s a loser, but Mathilda gets points for seeking revenge anyway.
Turning all the standard tropes of the Western genre on their head, this entertaining 1995 film features more than its fair share of failed father figures. John Herod and his gang raid a ranch and string up the owner. Herod gives the rancher’s little daughter a gun and tells her if she can shoot the rope she can save her father’s life. Dad chokes out that she should go ahead and try. His daughter shoots him in the head. As one might expect, Herod’s no great shakes in the fatherhood department. During the “shoot-off” in a gun-slinging tournament he runs, Herod kills his illegitimate son. Much awkwardness here for a Father’s Day viewing.
This intersecting story of fathers and sons takes place during the turn-of-the-century America oil boom. The 2007 film is engrossing in every respect. A New York Times film critic called it a “consummate work of art, one that transcends…. It reveals, excites, disturbs, provokes, but the window it opens is to human consciousness itself.” On the other hand, the movie offers little as a paragon of good fatherhood. Not to give anything away, but what dad does at the end of the film with a bowling pin doesn’t set a good example for the kids.
Watch either the 2013 Hollywood version or the original 2003 South Korean film. Both are engrossing. A drunken, philandering, abusive father wakes up after a binge in a hotel room that turns out to be a secret prison. After years of isolation, he is mysteriously released and simultaneously embarks on a quest to find his long-lost daughter and exact revenge on whoever imprisoned him. No spoilers from me. Let’s just say the film is a case study in how to be the worst father possible.